Today in the park I saw the man who raped me.
He was the first man who had sex with me. I don’t phrase it as the first man I had sex with because that makes me sound like I was an active participant and I wasn’t really. And on a warm September day more than 10 years after he raped me, he walked past me. He was with his dad – yep, weird to remember that he has a family and they knew him as a tiny child and his history extends so far beyond how I know him – and I was on my own and there he was. Just…there. He’s not even supposed to be in this country.
I don’t know if he saw me. We walked past each other as if we didn’t know each other, like ships that pass in the night. Or in this case, like boats that pass in the day. But we did know each other. We definitely did.
I’ve been listening to The Archers as they went through Helen and Rob’s trial dealing with domestic abuse. Despite the fact that it’s Helen on trial for the attempted murder of her husband Rob, during the court proceedings it comes out that he raped her on a regular basis. She talks about how she switched off and became numb in the end and something struck a chord. I know that feeling.
I remember being raped like an out of body experience. I don’t remember it happening to me – it’s more like I was hovering above watching as it happened. I remember the conversation and the instructions he gave but I don’t remember….
I remember it not hurting and being confused that it didn’t hurt because the first time is supposed to hurt isn’t it? Why didn’t it hurt? But I don’t remember how it actually felt.
I remember him commanding me to tell him I love him even though I didn’t.
I remember crying after and not knowing why.
I remember but I don’t remember.
He looks exactly the same. I don’t think I do. I don’t feel the same – I can’t possibly look it. I’ve grown outward and upward and inward and in all the directions a person can grow. I have expanded to fit myself in ways that I never thought I would.
Three thoughts went through my head as we walked past each other.
1 – No. That’s him. Why is he here?
2 – Thank God he didn’t see me.
3 – Nothing. I feel nothing.
And after the initial shock it was strangely liberating to know that 10.5 years on, walking past him I felt nothing.
And yet I know on a different day I might have felt something.
On neither of these days would I be able to talk to him. To look at him properly, hear his voice; speak to him without fury and pain and questions that I don’t believe he’d ever answer. I wouldn’t want to meet his eye. I wouldn’t want to try because I don’t believe he’d ever see that what he did was wrong. He remembers it differently. His story will never be, “I raped that 17 year old girl”.
And that’s such a big part of the problem.
One of the other things The Archers dealt with was the shame. The shame of admitting it happened. The thought of talking to my family about it fills me with terror and dread and an intense desire to hide or run away because I don’t want them to carry that knowledge around. I don’t want their picture of me to be this picture of me. It’s not shame for me but the thought of giving them that pain…I couldn’t look at them. They don’t need to be hurt like that. They can’t un-know it once they know.
I didn’t – couldn’t – tell anyone for 8 years because I didn’t acknowledge it myself. And just like Helen in The Archers, I knew it wasn’t right. I didn’t say anything to anyone about it. If I talked about losing my virginity I lied. I said it was when I was 18 over Christmas with the next guy I dated.
I suppose what I want to say is this:
It’s not ok. It is horrible and awful and violating. It’s not ok that it happened to me or to you or to anyone you know.
It’s not ok that I didn’t really know what it was. That I didn’t report it. That I didn’t even know what had happened to report. It’s not ok that when rape is shown on TV or in films it’s nearly always violent and angry and down a back alley. It’s not sneaky and manipulative and on your boyfriend’s bedroom floor. How can we recognise it in reality if we don’t know the most common forms it can take?
It’s not ok that there are men manipulating, taking and violating women. It’s not ok that people like Brock Turner aren’t being punished severely for this because they can swim really well guys so yeah it doesn’t matter how they treat women because whatever it’s just a woman right? Those people are making the world less safe for everyone. They’re doing a disservice to all the men who respectfully don’t go around raping women and then denying responsibility for it after the fact. They’re sullying your reputation and what it means to be a man. And what they’re doing to women is much, much worse.
But I’m ok.
And it’s ok that it took me a long time to acknowledge it.
It’s ok that I didn’t know how to talk about it, that I felt nothing for 8 years because I didn’t allow myself to think about it for that long.
It’s ok that I cry now when someone talks seriously about rape, fictionally, a book, an article, on the radio, in reality…anywhere really.
It’s ok that I find it hard to say that I was raped, that what happened to me was rape, that the man I saw in the park is the rapist who raped me. My mouth sort of gets stuck around the words and they stop in my throat and they choke me a bit but I feel like I have to force them out. It’s hard to say it out loud.
It’s ok that I feel a bit weird when someone talks about the statistics around rape and women because I slot myself into them and I don’t like it but I know I’m there. And there are so many of us. We are an ocean of faces. And those are just the ones on the surface – the ones you can see.
It’s ok that I felt nothing when I walked past him. It’s ok that on a different day I might have felt everything. Because I did my best and I’m always doing my best to deal with it. I’m lucky it doesn’t haunt me every day of my life. But it sneaks up on me and surprises me with its impact sometimes.
I went and sat on the grass in the sun for 45 minutes before I went back to work. Everything carried on as normal around me.
This boat is still afloat, sailing strong and beautiful. Today I am OK.